Offenbach: La belle Hélène

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Offenbach
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: La belle Hélène
PERFORMER: Felicity Lott, Yann Beuron, Michel Sénéchal, Laurent Naouri; Les Musiciens du Louvre & Chorus/Marc Minkowski
This new recording of La belle Hélène was made at the same time as performances at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and the sense of ensemble and comic pacing comes over very strongly. For once the brilliant libretto of Halévy and Meilhac actually sounds funny. Yann Beuron as the toyboy Paris is perfectly light and stylish with a sexy croon for his second-act duet and a great yodel for his third-act aria. Felicity Lott displays a real flair for comedy in her portrayal of the nymphomaniac Helen. Period-instrument specialist Marc Minkowski conducts a highly articulated performance, setting Offenbach in the French operatic tradition of Lully and Rameau, where the Gallic virtues of clarity and finesse are all-important. Offenbach aficionados will cling to their Nixa LPs of the René Leibowitz version with its dry acoustics and classic French singing. But this new set is certainly preferable to the best of the other modern versions, the one with Jessye Norman under Michel Plasson. Norman’s beautifully sung performance is overlaid with a thick coating of sugary schmaltz more appropriate to the Viennese operetta tradition which grew out of Offenbach’s prototype. This has all the sharpness and verve of the original.